This July, President Baird Tipson signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which sets a goal of carbon neutrality. It remains unclear exactly how WC will meet this goal.
The commitment asserts that "colleges and universities must exercise leadership in their communities and throughout society by modeling ways to minimize global warming emissions."
The pledge provides a list of steps schools must follow to achieve this goal, including completing and updating an inventory of greenhouse emissions, initiating short term actions such as teaching sustainability, and making the emissions inventories and progress reports available to the public.
What is carbon neutrality? According to Professor Donald Munson, the Director of the Department of Environmental Studies at WC, carbon neutrality is achieved when the college "neutralizes the impact of their own greenhouse gas emissions."
Munson went on to say that "25% of greenhouse gases come from personal use - car driving, or how much electricity you use."
Professor John Seidel, Director of the Center for Environment and Society (CES), has been working closely with Tipson and the administration in determining how WC will achieve its goal.
Seidel reported that Tipson has appointed a sustainability committee that will be meeting for the first time next week. They will go over the implementation guide and list of standards to which signatories are held.
According to Seidel, the first step the committee must take is to prepare a green house emissions inventory. It should document everything from electricity usage and the sources of the college's energy, to the emissions from the school's "entire fleet of vehicles", according to Seidel, and the gases emitted by an airplane when the school flies in a guest speaker, he said.
"Then we can come up with a plan to reduce emissions," Seidel said.
Professor of Chemistry Leslie Sherman listed options from her CNW on Global Warming, such as hybrid cars, public transportation, and wind and solar power.
Munson hypothesized, "They might put in fluorescent light bulbs, turn down the air conditioners, turn down the heat, insulate (the buildings) better - anything that reduces emissions."
Sherman and Seidel suggested that any new buildings on campus or old structures under renovation be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building council.
The council has different levels of certification for green buildings.
According to Seidel, the Board of Visitors and Governors has already decided that they want new and renovated structures to meet LEED's silver standard.
Seidel also suggested that any new equipment purchased by the school be Energy Star certified.
The concepts of environmental health and sustainability are not new concepts to the college.
"Everybody touches on sustainability," said Munson.
He listed classes which deal with the subject, including one called "Sustainability," which focuses on local issues.
To prove his point, Munson picked up the new Environmental Science text book, flipped through it, and opened to a random page near the middle.
"Here," he read aloud, "Sustaining biodiversity."
Sherman said she has shifted subject matter in her CNW towards what can be done to offset damage done to the environment as a stronger scientific consensus grows around the theory that global warming is largely the result of human activity.
WC is also creating a green lifestyle outside of the classroom. Geothermal dorms are being built on campus, and the Student Environmental Alliance is continuing with its composting and recycling projects.
A green pledge with hundreds of student and faculty signatures can be found on the website for the WC CES
"Based on student activities, we have a leg up on this. We're not going into this cold," said Seidel.
WC is also involved in neutralizing the effects of emissions off campus.
After Margo Bailey, Mayor of Chestertown, signed the US Mayors Climate Commitment last spring, she came to Seidel and the CES for help in figuring out how the town would fulfill its commitment.
The Town and Creek Foundation gave a grant to the CES, allowing it to continue its work on the project for another year.
Seidel stated he is enthusiastic about the "overlap between what the college has to do and what the town has to do."
As of now, however, the effects of the Presidents' Climate Commitment on Washington College are yet to be seen.